Monday, January 29, 2007

Legally Blonde Colon The Musical

[We interrupt your regularly scheduled program of reviewing books to review a musical instead. I’m sorry, I just need to get it out so that I can move on.]

Oh god. Okay, the good news is, most of the cast is great. Laura Bell Bundy, who plays Elle Woods and who also played Glinda in Wicked, is particularly fabulous. She’s a perfect Elle Woods (and was probably a perfect Glinda, too). The only off-note in the cast is Paulette, played by a woman named simply Orfeh, whose accent is less Boston and more Jersey; she’s not nearly as charming as Jennifer Coolidge in the film—and way more abrasive. There is a real dog who plays Bruiser and although Bruiser totally disappears in Act Two, he is cute and integrated well in the first act. The staging, lighting, sets, and costumes are all excellent and fun. The opening number (“Ohmigod, you guys”) is cheesy, obviously, but cute and catchy. I was optimistic. I was not expecting profundity.


In one way, it’s difficult to identify the low point. Is it the sorority sisters-turned-“Greek chorus” who pop up at inexplicable times, once dressed as clowns? Is it the incredibly stupid marching band number (total missed opportunity there)? Is it the series of man-hating butch lesbian jokes? Is it Legally Blonde: The Ballad? The simply horrible song about sharks? The totally embarrassing “I see dead people” joke? What is that joke, TEN YEARS OLD? It is hard to choose.

And yet, in another way, it is very, very easy to identify the low point. Try this one on for size. Paulette sings a ballad—for no reason I can discern—about going to Ireland. It is called “Ireland.” That is Exhibit A. And Exhibit B comes later, when she hooks up with the UPS guy, and finds out he is Irish (which, again, what?) and they slowly start to do a love-jig dramatically around the stage and then the entire cast comes out and DOES THIS INANE RIVERDANCE NUMBER I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. Elle is marching around waving a miniature American flag even smaller than the sad little “Red, White, and Blaine” flags in Waiting for Guffman, only I do not think it is supposed to be funny. I felt so much embarrassment for those involved, including and especially myself, that I had to cover my face with my hands.

I could have totally forgiven all of the above—except maybe the cheap shot lesbian jokes—if the music had been good. Pile on the cheese if you’ve got catchy tunes, then I won’t care. I mean I loved “Mamma Mia” and that show features a chorus line of guys wearing flippers and snorkel masks—but they’re dancing around to “Lay All Your Love On Me” so it’s awesome. But other than the first song, the songs in this musical suck. Suck and in some cases go on too long. And if you have a great singer like Laura Bell Bundy and don’t give her even one good song to belt out, that is a crime. Actually, Legally Blonde: The Ballad is kind of sweet, but still, the lyrics are a little painful. Something like “How silly of me / trying to be / legally blonde.” Which is basically what I was expecting anyway, so again, I could have forgiven it. But I was already cringing, so it was easy to continue.

Upon closer inspection of the program, I see that the most impressive credit of the lyrics and music team to date is Bat Boy: The Musical. I think that’s the problem right there. Although there are a lot of clever lines and clever lyrics sprinkled in there, there are also the above huge missteps. I don’t know if they can fix the show before it hits Broadway, apart from hiring a songwriter to write a handful of new songs, but they should try. Maybe people will like it. After all, all of the fourteen-year-old-girls in the audience seemed to love it.

So what the hell do I know?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Between the Acts (by Virginia Woolf)

Woolf's last novel. It was written during World War II (the Blitz, if I understand correctly) but portrays a small group of English people putting on a play right before the war. Stream-of-consciousness, of course. And it focuses on what happens "between the acts" of the play; and since it all takes place in a day and nothing much happens, it's also "between the acts" that comprise the lives of the characters.

Woolf flits into the minds of each character, one after another. I don't quite find them believable as people, which was my big problem with the book. I suppose it could be allegorical--putting on the play as a metaphor for the act of artistic creation. It is tempting to read it as a long suicide note, but I don't think that was quite the intent either. I guess what I'm saying is that it's beautiful, but still murky to me. I read this deliberately because I am reading another book that spends an entire chapter talking about it. I'll be finishing that book next, and maybe it will give me some further insight into Between the Acts.

I did think the ending was perfection, though. It strikes the perfect note, especially given the foreshadowing of the war.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Forever In Blue (by Ann Brashares)

The last book about the pants! I read this book on a bad day and it made me happy. I enjoyed Carmen's story the most, even though it was a little predictable. Bridget's was kind of more of the same. Lena I always love, and her story was good. Tibby's story wasn't bad either. Okay, I'm trying not to spoil anything and just being vague and boring, right? Oh well. I love the books about pants. I'd say it wasn't my favorite one, but I did like it a lot, and it brought a satisfying end to the series. Which tells you basically nothing. I'll try again later.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Color of Water (by James McBride)

I read this book because some fellow instructors at Dollar College suggested it as a good full-length work to assign my students. (I am, in fact, required to assign at least one full-length work.) Conveniently, I found it in the Library of Ian. It took me almost no time to read—it’s an engaging story, subtitled “a black man’s tribute to his white mother.” The book alternates chapters about the son and the mother, whose stories are equally fascinating.

This feels like a pretty obvious choice to put on my syllabus (the Wikipedia entry on James McBride even points out that it’s taught all over the place these days) but I can see why it appeals. It’s readable, quite interesting, brings up lots of interesting, debatable issues about race and identity—and I am optimistic that at least one or two of my students will finish the thing! So I think we have ourselves a winner. And I’m definitely not slagging the book off in any way—I really, really enjoyed it myself.

Monday, January 08, 2007

2006 Roundup

I did this last year, so I may as well keep the tradition alive. (I cannot believe I left Cloud Atlas off last year's list, by the way.) Well, this year I read fifty-two books. Twenty-three were by women, and twenty-nine were by men. A little more balanced this year, though I wish my list were longer. I am within one book of that damned Radcliffe list though, and that has to count for something.

Top five books of the year:

1. I have to start with my favorite book of the year, All the King's Men. Blew me away totally. I psychotically loved this book, and I fully expected to be bored.
2. I also loved The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie--and I recommend the movie too. Very highly. Maggie Smith in her prime, what more can you ask for?
3. My favorite Agatha Christie was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and I read it like three times this year because I was so impressed with it. If you like mysteries at all, and you haven't read it, give it a shot. Pure fun.
4. Fourth spot is going to Martin Dressler mainly because I taught it. When you teach a book, you become intimately acquainted with it and appreciative of it, I think. Especially when you have to justify to a class full of extraordinarily bright students why it's a "great American novel."
5. And finally, The Bridge of San Luis Rey was wonderful. I want to re-read it, in fact, because I don't remember the details--only the theme. God vs. coincidence. Powerful.

I have to have an honorable mention here for a book I didn't write about at the time, the thesis manuscript of my very dear Jenfu. I didn't write about it because it's not complete and between bound covers yet, so I wasn't sure what to say (or whether I should even reveal its title, which I will not). But my reaction was something akin to "holy shit, I am friends with a genius." True story.

Books I hated this year? Oh, there are some good ones.

1. Atlas Shrugged, for the love of god, is a steaming pile of crap. I cannot improve on my original review.
2. Michael Crichton's anti-global warming book State of Fear. I am so sad about this because I used to like him so much. (Not because he argues against global warming, but because the book just plain sucks. And also, bitch crazy.)
3. Look Homeward, Angel also sucks mightily. That's the one where the person in the comments thinks I have a feeble mind and PMS because I hated it. God bless him.
4. An American Tragedy is at first promising, then predictable and boring. Of its time more than for the ages, I think.
5. Oh god, I ran out of room! Did I hate Lord Jim more, or The Black Dahlia? What the hell, I didn't like either one. Give one of them the honorable mention, I don't care which.

Here's to finishing Finnegans effing Wake in 2007!

Secret Adversary (by Agatha Christie)

Once again, the first book of the year is by Agatha Christie! This was a complete accident. I am currently powering my way through Finnegans Wake but god knows nobody can do that full time. Today I felt vaguely unwell and was looking for something relatively easy to read, so I found this in the public domain. The protagonists are Tommy and Tuppence, a charming young pair of amateur detectives. Predictable storyline but the detectives are way more likeable than Hercule Poirot, for my money. I’d like to read the other Tommy and Tuppence novels (I think there are a couple.)

In addition to Finnegans Wake and The Skeleton Key To Finnegans Wake, I am also reading The Color of Water (I may teach it this semester) and The Things That Matter, which is an analysis of seven novels, six of which I’ve read. So I also have to read the seventh book (one of Woolf’s and I can’t remember the title). So it’s not like I’m not reading anything…just that I’m not actually finishing anything. Last year I intended to read 100 books; I read 52. But I was totally on track at the beginning of the year—the problem was that I moved three times and had like forty-seven jobs at the end of the year. I think I did okay.